Priest, Diocese Deny Allegations of Sexual Abuse, Cover-Up

By Ron Nissimov
Houston Chronicle
May 5, 1999

A local Roman Catholic priest Tuesday denied molesting a boy or giving him alcohol or drugs, and the diocese here denied it has covered up any sexual misconduct by its priests.

Through a press release by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston, the Rev. Dennis Peterson "vigorously" denied the allegations but offered no further comment.

The accusations were made Monday in a state lawsuit whose plaintiff, now a Houston adult, used the name John Doe I to protect his identity. The plaintiff said Peterson sexually abused him from 1987-97, when he was a minor, frequently after giving him alcohol or dugs.

The lawsuit also named the diocese, saying it knew or should have known about the alleged abuse.

Peterson is currently on medical leave as associate pastor at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, 2730 Nellwood. The Rev. Frank Rossi, chancellor of the diocese, said the medical leave is not related to the allegations.

The lawsuit also accused the diocese of covering up sexual misconduct by priests, including Peterson.

The diocese press release said it "is committed to proclaiming truth and justice and has not engaged in any attempt to cover up the sexual abuse of minors or any criminal activity by clergy or any church employee. The diocese vigorously investigates any such accusations."

The diocese said it had no previous complaints of misconduct by Peterson, who worked with hundreds of troubled youths while the diocese director of youth services for 17 years.

It said it learned only two months ago "through an outside source" that someone was investigating one of its priests for sexual misconduct.

It immediately began its own investigation, the diocese said, and learned that Dallas attorney Windle Turley was representing the alleged victim. It said Turley has hindered its internal investigation by providing only "vague and general allegations."

Turley, the lead attorney in a Dallas area case that resulted in the largest judgment ever against a Catholic diocese - $ 119.6 million in July 1997 - said Tuesday he has cooperated with the diocese here.

He said that he provided it with his client's name and that an attorney from his office had a lengthy conversation with an attorney for the diocese.

Catholic dioceses have denied wrongdoing in almost all sexual abuse suits, Turley said, but evidence was uncovered to show that dioceses engaged in cover-ups.

The $ 119.6 million verdict Turley won on behalf of eight men was settled for $ 23.4 million four months later.

Rossi said Peterson is 51 and has been a priest for 26 years. The press release said the local plaintiff is 26 and married, but Rossi declined to identify him.


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